I attended 3 live tapings of The Daily Show in 2000. I love that I still have the original snail mail envelope. Remember when stamps were 33¢ and the United States Postal Service was solvent?!
A lot has changed in the past 15 years. Now we live in a post 9/11 world, where fear is rampant, media is immersive, and political satire is the voice of reason. In 2012, I nominated Jon Stewart for recognition at USC, I referred to the application as my “love letter” for Jon Stewart.
January 18, 2012
Jon Stewart is the most prominent political satirist of the 21st century. As host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he has earned numerous accolades and has been referred to as “the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow” (New York Times, 2008). A committed advocate of media literacy, Jon Stewart has dedicated his life and career to highlighting the absurdity of American politics, news, and media.
Raised by a single mother in New Jersey, Jon Stuart Leibowitz graduated in 1984 from The College of William & Mary with a degree in Psychology. Stewart started as a stand-up comedian and branched into television as host of Short Attention Span Theater on Comedy Central. He also hosted the short-lived The Jon Stewart Show (1993-1995), the first late-night non-music oriented talk show on MTV. Through the 1990s, Stewart’s material became focused on politics, media, and other cultural institutions. In 1999, Jon Stewart became the host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; the show blends humor with the day’s top news stories, usually in politics, while simultaneously poking fun at politicians, newsmakers, and media.
Under Stewart’s leadership, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart show has vaulted to prominence as a source of media commentary and political satire. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has received 16 Emmys, and won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety, music or Comedy Series nine years in a row (2003-2011), as well as Peabody Awards for the show’s coverage of the 2000 and 2004 elections. In 2005, he was named as one of Time magazine’s most influential people. A study by Pew Research Center, more than 75% of Americans aged 18-49 reported that the regularly watched The Daily show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report (2008). A 2009 online poll by Time magazine revealed that Jon Stewart was America’s most trusted newsman compared to major network anchors including Brian Williams and Katie Couric.
Stewart’s efforts have changed news, politics, entertainment and the public sphere. His guests include entertainers, politicians, journalists, scientists, and writers among other prominent figures in American culture. Furthermore, he has been heralded for his interview style and probing questions, despite (or thanks to) the venue of Comedy Central. KC Cole, long time science writer for the L.A. Times and professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism raves that, “He’s extremely impressive whether he’s interviewing scientists, authors, politicos on left or right, and I think particularly incisive in his comments. He pushes and pushes and pushes.” The video linked at the top of this document features the following question to Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State, “If you knew what we know now about the weapons of mass destruction, do you think that the American people would have allowed us to go to war?”
List of Guests: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Daily_Show_guests
In addition, Stewart’s approach to journalism has changed our expectations of politicians. According to media scholar Henry Jenkins and USC Provost Professor, “The reliance on the news archive to juxtapose past and present statements and otherwise hold political leaders accountable to their historical context… provides a model that I wish more news organizations would follow.” Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at USC, has also acknowledged this unique presentation: “So-called fake news makes fun of that concept of balance. It’s not afraid to have a bullshit meter and to call people spinners or liars when they deserve it.”
When we spot silliness, we say so out loud. We’re not really Democrat or Republican. We’re out to stop that political trend of repeating things again and again until people are forced to believe them. – Jon Stewart
This awareness of, and disgust with, traditional tropes in news and media received great attention with Stewart’s appearance on an October 2004 episode of CNN’s Crossfire, where he criticized the program for “hurting America.” His comments were emblematic of his courageous, informed, and brilliant questioning of authority, especially the implied authority of newscasters. His appearance and comments were cited by CNN’s incoming president, Jonathan Klein when deciding to cancel Crossfire, “I think he made a good point about the noise level of these types of shows, which does nothing to illuminate the issues of the day.”
Stewart has also received credit for bringing a new generation of young Americans into political and civic awareness. A 2006 study published in American Politics Research reveals that viewers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart reported “increased confidence in their ability to understand the complicated world of politics” (Baumgartner & Morris, 2006). These findings are in line with a 2008 survey by Pew Research Center suggesting that regular viewers of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were most likely to score in the highest percentile on knowledge of current affairs; these viewers are highly informed, an indication that the program is not their only source of news.
“Yeh, I know Stewart says he is giving us fake news but he’s really just getting me interested in following up a story myself to see what else we are not being told. I love it when I can post a DS clip and watch my FB friends react to it. It’s not the news. It is a portal to more news. That’s The Daily Show Effect. It has turned my friends and I into wanting to know more and we know how to find more but it helps that he gives us a starting point.” – (19-year-old male in Rosen, 2010)
The Daily Show also launched the career of Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report. Together, they hosted the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall on October 30, 2010, which was attended by over 200,000. Nominated for four Daytime Emmy Awards, the rally was aimed at countering what Stewart described as the more vocal and extreme 15–20% of Americans who “control the conversation” of politics.
Too many have “bought into the idea that the conflict [in America] is left versus right” when the conflict is actually “corruption versus not-corruption” and that “both sides have their ways of shutting down debate. ” – Jon Stewart on The Rachel Maddow Show (November 15, 2010)
In December 2010 Stewart was credited by the White House and other media and political news outlets for raising awareness of the Republican filibuster on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides health benefits to first responders whose health has been adversely affected by their work at Ground Zero. Stewart dedicated an entire episode to the current situation in congress, and featured a roundtable with New York firefighters and other first responders.
What’s more, none of the three broadcast networks have mentioned any of this on their evening newscasts for two and a half months. Although to be fair, its not every day that Beatles songs come to iTunes. – The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (December 16, 2010)
The embrace of Stewart by academia and serious scholars is evident in a quick search for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in Google Scholar, which returns almost 1,000 academic articles, 166 in the 2011 alone. The resulting articles address the phenomenon of The Daily Show from a variety of disciplines including journalism and broadcasting, communication, psychology, political science, and rhetoric. In 2011, The Daily Show and Rhetoric: Arguments, Issues, and Strategies featured several critical essays regarding the program. I have included a brief compilation of these academic articles below.
I love Jon Stewart and his outstanding contributions towards media literacy, political advocacy, and promoting critical thought in the public sphere. Over the past 15 years, this ongoing conversation has deeply affected how I understand and talk about media. I know that the show will continue, but my parasocial relationship with Jon Stewart is coming to an end. I will miss his logical, rational, and hilarious presence in my home daily and I eagerly await his future endeavors.
Goodbye The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and thanks for all the fish.
- Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Music or Comedy Program (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009)
- Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series (2003-2011)
- Peabody Awards for coverage of the 2000 and 2004 Elections
- College of William & Mary: Honorary Doctorate (2004)
- Princeton University: Class Day Keynote Speaker (2004)
- Television Critics Association Awards: Individual Achievement in Comedy (2003, 2005), Outstanding Achievement in Comedy (2003), Outstanding Achievement in News & Information (2004)
- Newsweek: Stewart named “Who’s Next?” person for the coming year of 2004
- Entertainment Weekly: “Entertainer of the Year” (2004)
- GLAAD Media Awards: Special Recognition (2005)
- TIME 100: 100 most influential people of the year (2005)
- Thuber Prize for American Humor: America (The Book) (2005)
- Publishers Weekly Book of the Year: America (The Book) (2005)
- Grammy for Best Comedy Album: America (The Book) (2005)
- George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language (2005) (National Council of Teachers of English)
- Time magazine “The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME” (2007)
- Hamilton College: Sacerdote Great Names Speaker (2008)
- Liberian Chief (April 21, 2009) by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
- “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on the National Mall, Hosted with Stephen Colbert: Nominated for 4 Daytime Emmy Awards (October 30, 2010)
Goodnow, Trischa (ed.) (2011). The Daily Show and Rhetoric: Arguments, Issues, and Strategies
The Daily Show and Rhetoric: Arguments, Issues, and Strategies examines the popular Comedy Central program from a rhetorical perspective to uncover the ways in which Jon Stewart, the cast, and writers critique mainstream media and politicians. This volume analyzes the nature of The Daily Show, the arguments the program makes about the media and politics, the strategies that are used, and some of the particular issues about which the program makes arguments. Overall, the contributors skillfully demonstrate that The Daily Show is more than just a show designed to make the audience laugh. Rather, the show provides useful information and arguments so that the audience can make informed decisions about the world around them.
Smolkin, Rachel. (2007). What the Mainstream Media Can Learn from Jon Stewart. American Journalism Review. (http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=4329)
Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, dislikes journalists’ modern perception of balance. “Straight news is not what it used to be,” he says. “It has fallen into a bizarre notion that substitutes something called ‘balance’ for what used to be called ‘accuracy’ or ‘truth’ or ‘objectivity.’ That may be because of a general postmodern malaise in society at large in which the notion of a truth doesn’t have the same reputation it used to, but, as a consequence, straight journalists both in print and in broadcast can be played like a piccolo by people who know how to exploit that weakness.
“Every issue can be portrayed as a controversy between two opposite sides, and the journalist is fearful of saying that one side has it right, and the other side does not. It leaves the reader or viewer in the position of having to weigh competing truth claims, often without enough information to decide that one side is manifestly right, and the other side is trying to muddy the water with propaganda.”
Kaplan directs USC’s Norman Lear Center, which studies how journalism and politics have become branches of entertainment, and he has worked in all three worlds: former editor and columnist for the now-defunct Washington Star; chief speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale; deputy presidential campaign manager for Mondale; Disney studio executive and motion picture and television producer.
He borrows Eric Alterman’s phrase “working the ref” to illustrate his point about balance. Instead of “reading a story and finding out that black is black, you now read a story and it says, ‘Some say black is black, and some say black is white.’.. So whether it’s climate change or evolution or the impact on war policy of various proposals, it’s all being framed as ‘on the one hand, on the other hand,’ as though the two sides had equal claims on accuracy.”
Therein lies “The Daily Show’s” appeal, he says. “So-called fake news makes fun of that concept of balance. It’s not afraid to have a bullshit meter and to call people spinners or liars when they deserve it. I think as a consequence some viewers find that helpful and refreshing and hilarious.”
Baym, Geoffrey (2005). The Daily Show: Discursive Integration and the Reinvention of Political Journalism. Political Communication.
The boundaries between news and entertainment, and between public affairs and pop culture, have become difficult if not impossible to discern. At the intersection of those borders sits The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a hybrid blend of comedy, news, and political conversation that is difficult to pigeon hole. Although the program often is dismissed as being “fake” news, its significance for political communication may run much deeper. This study first locates The Daily Show within an emerging media environment defined by the forces of technological multiplication, economic consolidation, and discursive integration, a landscape in which “real” news is becoming increasingly harder to identify or define. It then offers an interpretive reading of the program that understands the show not as “fake news,” but as an experiment in journalism. It argues that the show uses techniques drawn from genres of news, comedy, and television talk to revive a journalism of critical inquiry and advance a model of deliberative democracy. Given the increasing popularity of the program, this essay concludes that The Daily Show has much to teach us about the possibilities of political journalism in the 21st century.
Baumgartner & Morris (2006). The Daily Show Effect: Candidate Evaluations, Efficacy and American Youth. American Politics Research.
We test the effects of a popular televised source of political humor for young Americans: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. We find that participants exposed to jokes about George W. Bush and John Kerry on The Daily Show tended to rate both candidates more negatively, even when controlling for partisanship and other demographic variables. Moreover, we find that viewers exhibit more cynicism toward the electoral system and the news media at large. Despite these negative reactions, viewers of The Daily Show reported increased confidence in their ability to understand the complicated world of politics. Our findings are significant in the burgeoning field of research on the effects of “soft news” on the American public. Although research indicates that soft news contributes to democratic citizenship in America by reaching out to the inattentive public, our findings indicate that The Daily Show may have more detrimental effects, driving down support for political institutions and leaders among those already inclined toward nonparticipation.
Love, Robert (2006). Before Jon Stewart. Columbia Journalism Review. (http://www.cjr.org/feature/before_jon_stewart.php)
Just before his famous confrontation with Tucker Carlson on CNN ’s Crossfire MORE ON THAT two years ago, Jon Stewart was introduced as “the most trusted name in fake news.” No argument there. Stewart, as everyone knows, is the host of The Daily Show, a satirical news program that has been running since 1996 and has spun off the equally funny and successful Colbert Report. Together these shows are broadcast (back to back) more than twenty-three times a week, “from Comedy Central’s World News Headquarters in New York,” thus transforming a modest side-street studio on Manhattan’s West Side into the undisputed locus of fake news.
Baym, Geoffrey (2007). Crafting New Communicative Models in the Televisual Sphere: Political Interviews on The Daily Show. The Communication Review.
Jon Stewart’s interviews on The Daily Show (TDS) surprisingly have become an important node in the national political conversation. Often providing a series of insightful conversations with politicians, journalists, authors, and intellectuals, they represent a hybrid mode of political discourse enabled by the new media environment. This study explores the ways in which they rework the rules of news and celebrity interviewing to produce a novel form of televisual interaction that blends postmodern stylistics with a modernist ethos of rational-critical dialogue.
Discussion in the Critical Studies in Media Communication (2007)
- Bennett, Lance W. Relief in Hard Times: A Defense of Jon Stewart’s Comedy in an Age of Cynicism
- Hart & Hartelius. The Political Sins of Jon Stewart.
- Hariman, Robert. In Defense of Jon Stewart
Fox, Koloen, & Sahin. (2007). No Joke: A Comparison of Substance in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Broadcast Network Television Coverage of the 2004 Presidential Election Campaign. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.
This study examined substantive political coverage of the first presidential debate and the political conventions in 2004 on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the broadcast television networks’ nightly newscasts. The study found the networks’ coverage to be more hype than substance and coverage on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to be more humor than substance. The amount of substantive information in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the broadcast network newscasts was the same, regardless of whether the unit of analysis was news stories about the presidential election campaign or the entire half-hour program.
Brewer & Marquardt. (2007). Mock News and Democracy: Analyzing the Daily Show. Atlantic Journal of Communication.
The Daily Show is a television program that uses ‘‘fake’’ news stories and real guest interviews to mock the substance and form of traditional television news programs. A content analysis examined the news stories and interviews in 52 episodes of The Daily Show from early 2005. Of the 222 news stories in these episodes, more than half addressed political topics; a fourth did so using issue frames. Almost half of the stories addressed world affairs. A smaller—but nonetheless substantial— percentage addressed the news media. Many of the 52 interviews also addressed politics, world affairs, and the news media. These findings, taken in conjunction with findings regarding the effects of ‘‘soft news’’ media, suggest that The Daily Show may have the potential to educate viewers about politics (including policy issues), draw their attention to events in world affairs, and encourage them to think critically—or perhaps cynically—about traditional news.
Warner, Jamie (2007). Political Culture Jamming: The Dissident Humor of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Popular Communication.
Contemporary politicians have wholeheartedly embraced commercial branding techniques, saturating the public sphere with market tested, emotional messages designed to cultivate trust in their political “brand,” thus working against the ideal of a democratic public sphere. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart “jams” the seamless transmission of the dominant brand messages by parodying the news media’s unproblematic dissemination of the dominant brand, broadcasting dissident political messages that can open up space for questioning and critique. The Daily Show works, not by rational argumentation buttressed by facts and logic but by using an aestheticized (and very funny) parodic discourse to combat the aestheticized (and very serious) political branding techniques. Consequently, it is uniquely positioned to make its rebellious voice heard.
Pew Research Center (2008). Journalism, Satire, or Just Laughs? “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Examined. http://www.journalism.org/node/10953
The Daily Show performs a function that is close to journalistic in nature—getting people to think critically about the public square. – Pew Research Center
Trier, James. (2008). The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Part 1 and 2). Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.
“The Daily Show is the best critical literacy program on television.”
Morris, Jonathan. (2009) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Audience Attitude Change During the 2004 Party Conventions. Political Behavior.
The intention of this analysis is to examine The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s coverage of politics and assess the persuasive power of the program’s unique brand of humor. Evidence from a content analysis of The Daily Show’s ‘‘Indecision 2004’’ coverage of the Democratic and Republican Party Conventions shows the program’s humor was much harsher during the Republican Convention than it was during the Democratic Convention. While the humor in both conventions was heavily based on self-deprecation and the exploitation of conventional political stereotypes, the ridicule of Republicans focused much more on policy and character ﬂaws. Humor pointed toward Democrats, on the other hand, tended to focus more on innocuous physical attributes. Analysis of panel data collected by the National Annenberg Election Survey during the 2004 national party conventions shows that exposure to The Daily Show’s convention coverage was associated with increased negativity toward President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. These relationships remain signiﬁcant even when controlling for partisan identiﬁcation and ideology. Attitudes toward the Democratic ticket, John Kerry and John Edwards remained consistent.
Cao, Xiaoxia (2010). Hearing it from Jon Stewart: The Impact of the Daily Show on Public Attentiveness to Politics. International Journal of Public Opinion Research.
This study examines the impact of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, an American political comedy show, on public attentiveness to politics. I found that watching the show was positively related to following the issues that were covered with relative frequency by the program (e.g., the Afghanistan War in 2002 and news about the presidential candidates in 2004) among politically inattentive viewers. As viewers’ political attentiveness increased, however, the magnitude of the positive relationship decreased. These findings, in light of those from previous research on the show, call for further investigations of the potential effect of the program and others of its ilk on the U.S. democratic system.
Rosen, L. (2010). The Daily Show Effect. Psychology Today.
The Daily Show Effect — first mentioned in a 2006 journal article in American Politics Research, and now also referred to as WWJSD (What Would Jon Stewart Do?) — speaks yards about our newly politicized youth. They live in a connected, media-driven world replete with hours spent switching from Facebook to YouTube to text messages to video games to the Internet, on their omnipresent iPhones, Droids, laptops, iPads, and literally any Internet-enabled device. They enjoy and appreciate social and political issues and are ready to gobble them up as long as they are presented with the following in mind:
- The messages must be delivered via some form of media.
- The messages must be short and to the point.
- The messages must be delivered using multi-sensory inputs (auditory, visual, tactile, kinesthetic, etc.).
- The messages must entail humor.
This is why the Daily Show works and why there is a true Daily Show Effect. It uses brief (often just a few seconds) video or audio clips, in engaging formats, with snippets of information leading the viewer to an obvious conclusion. Whether Jon Stewart is dishing out “fake news” or not, the impact is the important feature. That young viewers clamor to watch his show (many of whom do so online as they task-switch voraciously) and they pay attention to the information he dispenses. They do not look at him as some sort of icon. Rather, they see him as a leader in bringing them news in a manageable, hip, understandable, and humorous format which they can digest, return to at a later date, forward to their friends, and post on Facebook. As one 19-year-old told me recently, “Yeh, I know Stewart says he is giving us fake news but he’s really just getting me interested in following up a story myself to see what else we are not being told. I love it when I can post a DS clip and watch my FB friends react to it. It’s not the news. It is a portal to more news. That’s The Daily Show Effect. It has turned my friends and I into wanting to know more and we know how to find more but it helps that he gives us a starting point.“